From Baguio to Baguionas and Back A Virginia Baptist in the Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines By Bob MunsonThe rickety old jeepney drove along a deeply rutted dirt road, working along the side of a mountain. Every joltcaused the vehicle to give off disquieting popping and cracking sounds and sway disturbingly. I was packed inlike a proverbial sardine with 18 others (and some chickens). Further, an unknown number were on the backfender, on top with all of the luggage and medical supplies, and on the front hood. When the cliff was on myside, I felt panic when the jeepney lurched toward it. When the cliff was on the other side, I felt somehow saferwhen the jeepney lurched that way. It occurred to me that that did not make sense since, either way, we wouldtumble hundreds of feet to our deaths. I sensed there was a good spiritual truth in it, but I could not settle mymind to think it through. I kept wondering if the driver had computed the change in the center of gravity of thevehicle due to the big load on top. To add to the concern, I was the team leader-- I was responsible for everyonebeing there.Celia, myself, and our three children left Virginia in 2004, supported from Spring Hill Baptist of Ruckersville,to study at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary in Baguio, and involve ourselves in outreach mission work.Soon we were involved in medical evangelistic missions. Celia, myself, and our 10-year-old son Joel, havedone several trips, but this one I was by myself. This trip was a joint effort of Spring Hill and two Philippinechurches: Calvary Baptist, Baguio City, and Blessed Hope Christian, Cavite. We left Baguio around 4AM.Baguio is THE city in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). With over a quarter of a million residentsliving at 1-mile elevation, it has several universities and hospitals. Most in Baguio speaks English, along withIlokano and Tagalog. And it has the surest sign of prosperity in the Philippines—an SM Mall.Baguionas is maybe 30 miles away “as the crow flies”, 3 hours away (minimum) in driving, and a lifetime awayin style and pace. It is tucked into a mountain valley that is ALMOST inaccessible. During rainy season, it canonly be reached on foot (and helicopter?). A few dozen families live as subsistence farmers and broommakersin simple houses, without electricity, surrounded by terraced rice paddies. There is a small school with lodgingfor the teachers (commuting is not an option). There is one “sari-sari” store. Food and lodging can be had fromindividual families.We left in a bus and two cars toward Naguilian. The road twists and turns as it descends 1 mile in elevation. Ihad to ask to stop when my motion sickness pill failed to do its job. Naguilian is a provincial town. The openmarket provides a place for people in the surrounding region to buy and sell. Adjacent to the open market arethe videokes (video karaoke bars) for people to spend their money. Most of the team transferred to twojeepneys. Jeepneys (somewhere between a bus and taxi) are everywhere in the Philippines. The back isenclosed with two long benches. They are amazingly versatile and many are ornately decorated beautifying thePhilippine landscape. However, our jeepneys were not pretty. These were the Baguionas jeepneys-- beat-upsurvivors, with high wheel clearance, four-wheel drive, and an engine with gearing to go wherever roads run.I rode in Darwin’s SUV, which was built to handle some of the worst roads in the CAR. We arrived inBaguionas around 8AM. The jeepneys crossed the river, while we in the SUV parked on one side and took thesuspended footbridge across. There is no Christian witness there. Most of the people are Spiritists. The peoplespeak Kankanei, and a little Ilokano. Tagalog and English (the national languages of the Philippines) have littleuse there. The Kankanei are 100,000+ strong scarttered throughout the CAR.After a breakfast with our host family, we began setting up at the elementary school. We had Dr. Rene, Dra.Evita, and Dr. Paul for medical/surgical, and Dra. Myla, Dra. Sandra, and Dra. Jennifer for dentistry.Additionally, we had nurses to take blood pressure and dispense medications, counselors to share the gospel inKankanei, Ilokano, and Tagalog, and several others for crowd control. Then there was me. I was the supposedto be the team leader. Brother JR (a Filipino-American missionary and usual leader) was still in California.
This was my first shot as leader. Happily, Pastor Jun and brother Roy did much to ensure things did not spiralout of control. On the first day, I felt more like a team follower than leader.We started around 10AM, with one patient waiting-- NOT a successful start. But slowly others trickled in,pausing a few meters from the school grounds for several minutes before proceeding. They would register andhave their blood pressure checked. Then they had the gospel shared with them in the language of their choice.We shared some Kankanei Bibles and songbooks. Next, they went to the dentists for check-up or toothextractions, the surgeon for cyst removal or circumcision, or the medical doctors for other concerns. Finally,they went to the pharmacy for free medicines and vitamins.That day, we treated 160 people. Close to 75% prayed to receive Christ into their hearts. Filipinos are veryfriendly and agreeable as a group, and can agree to things that they don’t really accept. However, it would be amistake to downplay the momentous nature of this day. Jesus told us to preach the good news to all peoples. Ittook Christians almost 2000 years to obey in reaching this community. Many of the decisions made wereserious and even the polite responses are still open doors for further outreach.After an evening swim in the river, we joined people from the settlement who were invited over to our hostfamily’s house for a film-showing. Between 150 to 250 people arrived around sunset. Darwin Bayani worksfor Vernacular Video Ministries, which produces and shows evangelistic movies in local languages. He set uphis generator and equipment, while we sat in a dry rice paddy to watch movies on a sheet hung on the side of thehouse. The first movie was titled (in Kankanei) “The Answer”. It was built around a theme near to the hearts ofthe Kankenei-- a family that left the mountains to go to the lowlands, where they became assimilated into theculture and vices of the lowlanders. The story did have a happy ending, of course, and a good evangelisticmessage. Pastor Samuel, gave a short testimony and call to receive Christ. Many more responded. After this,they were invited to have some dinner. Few did this since they wanted to watch another movie. VVM hasproduced 6 movies in Kankanei so far, and has produced many other movies in other languages in the CAR. Insemi-remote places like Baguionas and others accessible only by long mountain foot trails, movie showing isimmensely popular and effective.Most of the team did not stay up for the other films, but went to different houses to sleep. Five of us walkedinto the forest to a nice house on the hillside. There we slept on mats in the sweltering heat. Oh… did I mentionthe heat? Brutal! And it stayed hot into the night. One rooster had insomnia and attempted to give us insomniaas well. But we eventually fell asleep and woke up around 5AM to prepare for the next leg of our trip. Those ofus riding with Darwin crossed the footbridge and crawled our way up the mountainside in his SUV, while therest were to ride the jeepney out. We arrived in Baay around 7:30AM Baay is more developed thanBaguionas. Any 4-wheel drive vehicle can reach Baay (in the dry season). More know Ilokano and Tagalog. Afew know English. They have electricity, churches, stores, and a small medical clinic with nurse staff. Webecame disturbed as time passed and the jeepney did not arrive. Brother Darwin had to leave so we begansetting up for the medical mission, with no team and no transportation. Our attempts to call the others failedsince cell phones weren’t reaching Baguionas. We were stuck.Around 9AM, it occurred to me that is was time to be a team leader. There was a large group of people ready tobe treated. There were only four of us, but two were doctors and one was a dentist. We decided that if our teamdid not arrive by 10AM we would do the medical mission ourselves. We would get the nurses at the local clinicto do registration and blood pressure, Dr. Rene would do medical, Dr. Myla would do dentistry, Dr. Evita wouldrun the pharmacy, and I would do crowd control. While we did not wish to skip sharing the gospel, we had amoral obligation to provide the medical care we promised them. Our hosts found someone who could go toBaguionas to fetch some of the team. I paid a lot (by Filipino standards) for him to do it, but to me, $15 for atwo-hour drive was a bargain, so I did not haggle.At 9:45 over half of our team crawled out of a jeepney full of brooms and stumbled into the medical missionsite. The local people cut tiger grass and make very pretty brooms, known as “Baguio Brooms”. They arepopular and functional, and provide a profitable cottage industry for the people. The jeepney driver we had
reserved did not see the team immediately, so he drove off without them. In desperation a part of our teambegan hiking the long steep road out of Bagyonas. 1.5 hours into their hike, they were able to get a ride with thebroom jeepney. The rest of the team who were left behind were picked up by the driver we sent out, so all werein Baay before lunch.Despite the difficulties (adventures?) of the morning, it was a wonderful day. Baay is on a mountain and theweather was cooler. The people were friendly and took good care of us. At the end of the day, we all gottogether to praise God for the opportunity we had to help people in need. We gave medical and dentaltreatment and medicines and vitamins freely to 513 people between the two locations, and 364 people prayed toreceive Christ (not counting those who did at the film showing). This trip had been prayed for and planned longbefore we got there. Jesus’ words in the book of John were so true: “I sent you to reap what you have notworked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” Many liveschanged in those two days, and many hearts have been prepared for the future.Time to go. There was only one jeepney available to take us back to Naguilian. I remarked casually about thelack of space for everyone and everything. I said I would be happy to ride on top, and would almost pay for theopportunity. What was I thinking? Pastor Samuel replied that I could not do that since riding on top ofjeepneys is illegal. This statement was, of course, not serious, and is akin to an American saying, “Why ofcourse we can’t, speeding is illegal!”We packed everyone and everything aboard. This same jeepney had repairs done that morning since the driverfelt it was unsafe for passengers (an amazing admission in the Philippines). I thought the jeepney was full, but Iwas wrong. Several more jumped on along the way and disappeared on top somewhere.Since, I told you much of the rest at the beginning of the story, I shan’t bore you with redundancy. I wasblessed in being able to learn and be a blessing. Always pray for cities like Baguio, and towns like Naguilian.But don’t forget about the little places where the road or footpath widens, like Baay and Baguionas. Themapmakers may ignore them, but we are called to reach out to them all, with love.